Interview with David Lake

| October 2nd, 2014


Full audio interview: David Lake Interview


What exactly did you see in China that you wanted to further engage the natural realm?


China is moving 1.2 million a month from rural China to urban China…largest migration of people in the history of the planet…their per capita of energy use is going up, but they are still using about six times less of energy per capita than we do…we are setting an awful example to the rest of the world…so I saw in China both the immediate capacity for us to be energetic and scientific and rigorous and sustainable, and on the other hand, this huge demand, the reality of a planet in peril…how is this going to be fixed?


What is your definition of architecture/what is the role of an architect?


These are tough questions for the middle of the afternoon…our role as architects was to make a seamless connection to the environment…and I think the definition of architecture or architect is to make those critical linkages, where the natural realm is first and the manmande realm second…while letting technology and science drive the process…


What I find exacerbating about our profession is we continue to emulate sculpture and three dimensional volumes as a solution, and the reality of out job as architects long before we became sculptures was about place making…about creating harmonious environments within and without…that’s more than ever our role as architects is to think of the natural realm first.


How have we seen architecture and modernism change in terms of materiality, function, and aesthetic?


My mentor…a pre-modernist…describes himself as someone who looks at the vernacular architecture, architcture as a place before air conditioning happened, before man started warping performance criteria of a building, and just looked at what was available to him passively with just local materials, local craft…which is what I think we need to go back to.


People aren’t doing porches anymore…a critical place to hang out…a critical connection with the neighbor, the street, the backyard…it was this pivotal linkage to the natural realm, where you could be out doors, be comfortable, and be more intrinsicly in the climate, it celebrated the climate…so we looked at ranchers, etc…learning from the past is critical, and applying technology for the future.


What is your stance on form vs functionality?


I love modern architecture, or I like new architecture…I don’t like modernist, because modernist to me tends to strip away the meaning of the building, and it becomes about sculpture, like Zaha, or OMA, which is BS.  All these people strip stuff down and create these forms, and the worst example is the Seattle Public Library.  You come in and you don’t even know where the front door is, you can’t hang out on the sidewalk because it rains a lot there…no canopy…they can’t clean the windows because of the shape, they have to bring in a special contractor to come in…just simple stuff.


How has architecture changed and how have you changed since starting out?


I graduated in 1976…during an energy crisis, so there was huge emphasis on studying energy systems…the reason I went into architecture was to make this intrinsic connection of architecture to the environment, and preserve that environment…I started out with that mindset…I did design/build…and we began to apply a more rigorous scientific approach to how our building is performing, and integrating systems more readily and early in the design process…we have an engineer in the office asking probing questions about the building…every part of the phase we have internal pin ups about building performance…called design reviews…asking is the building performing the way you say it is performing and is it doing its job?


We are all designers.  If you can balance art and architecture with th science if engineering and technology, if you can bring those two things together and merge them and have them integral to your effort, then I think you have a building that is intrinsicly going to be of its place…it’s going back to this vernacular architcture…and adding science and technology.


What is your idealized built world?  What is the future of the architcture?


I think the challenge for architcture moving forward is beginning to flesh out what is…sustainable financially, sustainable ecologically, and sustainable culturally…we need to develop a kit of parts…an understanding of the local culture and materials…you don’t have a preconceived notion of what the building looks like…it’s sort of like a tree, where you have an idea, but ultimately it is being driven by natural forces.


What is your opinion in our education right now?


Education and architecture is really a challenge.  I do think you need to integrate systems thinking and technology of construction and smart performance criteria…together with a strong design world…to synthesize all this information into a finite built piece requires a collaboration.  When I was in school, you had a vision of your building and had to drive it forward…you have to have an open mind of where these sources of inspiration come from…and teaching that is a difficult task…I think really understanding how buildings are building…and not losing sight that buildings have to synthesize all this and still be poetic about the place…is important…


I learned more just by building, and I know we tend to be more and more into the computer, and that’s a challenge…you learn so much more on the job, and you learn the limits of what you can and can’t build…you gain a practical sense…I think that teaching architecture should be spending time building or spending time in an architectural office doing what what we do…I think that’s a good way of learning how architects solve problems…you can build a perfect model in 3D, but I guarantee you that you can’t understand it and the client can’t understand it until you physically see it…computers are good for modeling systems, but…building is what we do, it’s visceral, and it’s practical, and you can’t learn that through a computer…that’s what differentiates us from…artists.


Quickly sketch, in one to two minutes, a design for the roof of architecture east.


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